Steelrising is a clockpunk Soulslike take on the French Revolution
Shades of Soulslike with a splash of NieR:Automata, all on a French Revolution canvas.
The French developer Spiders has become known for its sprawling RPGs, titles like Greedfall, which serve up rich worlds full of opportunity that are enhanced by diverse customisation suites. And while Spiders doesn't intend to step away from that offering in the future, as a Greedfall sequel is on its way, the upcoming Steelrising is rather an action-RPG, meaning we get a more demanding and linear experience than previous titles from the studio. I know this as I've had the chance to play some Steelrising as part of a preview opportunity, and from what I've seen this is a title that clearly shares influence from Soulslikes and NieR:Automata.
But what do I mean by this? Well the NieR influence comes in the form of the storyline and setting, which is late 18th Century France, specifically during the time of the French Revolution. But, this isn't the revolution history knew as Steelrising is set in an alternate timeline, one where ruler Louis XVI (also known as the Clockwork King) has decided that humans aren't enough to quash the rising rebellion of the French people, and instead the French king has instilled the service of Eugene de Vaucanson, an engineer who has created a whole army of ruthless mechanical automatons. The narrative sees players stepping into the role of Aegis, an automaton who has been engineered to solely serve Queen Marie-Antoinette, and it's here that we find out the Queen doubts the King, believes he has succumbed to madness, and was involved in the death of her son, the Dauphin. To see whether her suspicions hold true, you, as Aegis, are sent to Paris to unearth the plot of the King and to find any leads to what happened to the heir to the French throne.
So, as you can see, there's a clear NeiR influence here, as you play as an automaton that must fight through hordes of deadly other automatons in the spirit of what is just and good. But, unlike NieR, Steelrising doesn't have a futuristic dystopian setting, and is rather based in Paris during this monumental time in history. That means you see a portrayal of the city that is dirty, narrow, painted by conflict and war, and it's not the same regal, cultural hotspot that we know today. In fact, the world itself is rather barren as the fear that King Louis and his automaton armies strike into the hearts of the people means that Aegis never meets humans on the streets, as every person is locked up inside their hovels and houses. Instead, the world - which is designed with a combination of linear pathways to follow and some alternative side paths - is littered and brought to life by the mechanical beings that patrol the world.
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Which is where the Soulslike comparisons begin to shine through. While Elden Ring looked to reinvent the formula for this subgenre with an open world, Steelrising is a game more akin to Dark Souls and is semi-open, you could say. You do have the freedom to explore each location as you see fit, to check alleyways and hidden paths that are open to you, but at the same time to get to the end of a level and to move to the next location, you will have to follow a predetermined route, as more often than not gates to where you want to go will be locked until you discover a way to take the long way around and open them from the other side.
The Soulslike comparisons don't stop there either however, as the gameplay is very similar. Combat is challenging and will require you to take your time to learn the attacks of enemies and the more threatening bosses, to block or parry oncoming attacks, or dodge to avoid them all together, and likewise foes usually are quite resilient and will require you to assault them for some time. Then to add to this, there's a broad array of weapons to be able to use, with unique attacks, alongside elemental damage that can for example freeze and immobilise foes. And this is all alongside a deep RPG system as you'd expect from Spiders, a system that allows you to specialise your Aegis to a play style that suits you, by investing the Anima Essence currency into attribute upgrades (which improve health, damage, stamina etc.) and by unlocking Module slots that can be used to activate further improvements, such as a bonus to total health. Of course there's also clothing items to consider, with better items providing improvements to stats as well.
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If all of this doesn't feel familiar to you, then perhaps the fact that lootable items in the world (be it throwable grenades, resistance vials, or crafting ingredients) are shown as glowing blue orbs - very similar to the glowing white orbs of Dark Souls - is enough, or maybe the concept that you lose all of your Anima Essence on death, will be enough to ring a bell.
But just because there's a real feeling of familiarity doesn't mean that Steelrising isn't exciting. For one, I generally don't get on with Soulslike games as I find them sluggish, slow, and far too punishing to feel rewarding and entertaining, but from what I played of this title, the gameplay is rather fluid, it's not overwhelmingly hard (even if it is still challenging) and the customisation and upgrading systems are handled in such a way that they feel intuitive and easy to understand - rather than being viciously complicated.
Steelrising also looks to provide an interesting storyline, one where the player has to make decisions as friends can become foes at the click of a button, and vice-versa. I will say that the graphics didn't do anything to really impress me, in fact the cutscenes were particularly bad, but considering this version I played was a preview one, I'm guessing we'll see a host of improvements and polish here before launch.
But overall, I believe that Steelrising is shaping up to be a rather entertaining game when it debuts on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series on September 8. Will it be revolutionary? No. But fun and a teeniest bit educational for those unaware of the details of the French Revolution? The signs suggest so.